SPARTA, NJ – If there was a theme to the Sparta Board of Education May meeting it would have been travel.  The meeting started with presentations about things that are going at Alpine Elementary School and Sparta Middle School.

Principal Michael Gregory introduced three students in the Sparta Township Enrichment Program or STEP and their teacher Cherie Shefferman.  STEP is Sparta’s version of a gifted and talented program.

Kaela Burke, Kyle Neuwirth and Liam Rust presented Expedition Field Trips to the board members, giving each member and administrator a set of goggles to try.  Expedition is virtual reality experience that allows students to investigate geographical locations and explore cultures and concepts they might not otherwise encounter.

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“We found our peers to be geographically illiterate,” Burke said.  “It was disturbing because this fosters feelings of isolationism and nationalism.”

Rust spoke to the board about having the opportunity to lead other students on Expedition field trips.  “It gave meaning to the lessons because you see it not just read about it.”

Neuwirth said they were able to experience science lessons on motion and acceleration through a virtual reality lesson on rollercoasters. 

“It allowed students to be more engaged to better understand the lessons,” Neuwirth said.

The students led the people at the board table on an Expedition of ancient Greece.  They led an abridges lesson about the Acropolic, Mt Vacavis, Santorini and other locations.

“Every scene has a list of questions, varying in level of challenge,” they explained.

The Alpine Elementary STEP Teacher Christina Morrow explained the evolution of the program.  She meets “two to three times a week with student who have met the criteria to be in STEP.”  Additionally Morrow now meets with every class once a week as well.

“The students really are my inspiration,” Morrow said.  “Everyone has their own gift.”

One of the students’ favorite activities was creating stop motion animation.  They used 25 iPads Morrow got through a grant from the Sparta Education Foundation.  They created short videos on character education theme of being courteous, reminding their peers “not to forget their manners.”

“Every day they come to STEP, they ask if they are doing stop motion animation,” Morrow said.  “Thank you to the Sparta Education Foundation.”

The students learned about coding in Morrow’s class as well.  They learned about algorithms.  Using Lego Ed 2.0 donated by the PTO, the students create programs that get cars to move using iPads.

They use the iPads, loaded with Story Creator, Kahoot and QR code readers to do scavenger hunts and to create listening centers previously run with cassette tapes. 

Morrow also raised fish from eggs donated through the Trout in the Classroom program.  They got the eggs in October and released them last week along with goodbye notes written by the students on dissolvable paper.

“Thank you for having me,” Morrow said.  “It’s been an inspiring year.”

At Sparta Middle School the STEP students are required to complete a final project called a Legend Project.  They seek to find a solution to “anything they would like to do or change for students in the future.”

Russian teacher Suzanne Jouravlev introduced student Sophie Regeimbal to speak about her project. Regeimbal's partner in the project Lindsay Pugliese was unable to attend the meeting.

Regeimbal spoke with poise and confidence about the travel ban in the Sparta school district, prohibiting travel outside of the country.  She explained she had spoken with Superintendent Dr Michael Rossi on the issue.

“I’ve been given the reasons why travel was banned, primarily safety, financial considerations,” Regeimbal said.  She proceeded to provide options to overcome the objections.  As to safety, she suggested several options including going to a smaller city rather than one with a higher profile, using Paris as an example.  She also suggested the option of going to other countries where the language is spoken such as Canada, instead of France.

Regeimbal suggested a more thorough vetting process including a review of discipline issues, grades and teacher recommendations, “to ensure only responsible students” go on the trips. Further, capping the numbers and an assembly to convey rules and expectations would help.

Tacking the issue of finance Regeimbal suggested a set schedule of travel in the summer between junior and senior year.  “If everyone knows that’s the year, they can start saving,” Regeimbal said.

She also suggested opportunities for meaningful fundraisers such as “making food and clothes based on the cultures of the country to sell and raise money, like TREP$ with a twist.” 

The presentation continued by explain benefits to travel.  “They could work on a project while there; having the project reflect their personal learning style,” she said.  “It would be a boost to their transcripts. It creates habits that that stay with the student for life, and Two weeks of travel is equal to one year of study [of a language] in America.”

She said “While Google Expedition is amazing it cannot replace actual experience,” Sophie said.???  “There is value to both VR and reality.”

Jouravlev finished up the topic of international travel.  “It is the opportunity to utilize the language and culture they have invested years in studying. The ban has been stunting the academic growth.”

Sparta High School sophomore Jensen Scott traveled to France with his family.  He spoke to the board.  “I have the greatest memories of going on the French trip.  I’m going to study French for as long as I can and use it for future employment.”

Audrey, a junior traveled to Germany for 10 days last summer.  “Not only did I improve my German skills but I learned about the culture and how to get along in a different country.”

“Thank you for your passion,” Rossi said. “The policy committee will contemplate the topic.”

Kelly McEvoy said, “Thank you.  Our students make us reflective.”